In our 17th installment of our 224 part series “Better Know A Dean,” we sat down with Jannell Lundy Roberts, the Assistant Dean of Admissions for Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. Previously, she was Director of Admissions at theUniversity of Southern California Law School. Dean Roberts received her Master’s degree in Higher Education and Organizational Change from the University of California, Los Angeles and her Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Loyola Marymount University.
Dean Roberts’s 17-year tenure in higher education includes various aspects of student services, including financial aid. She worked for eight years at Southwestern University School of Law as Assistant to the Dean and Associate Director of Admissions. Prior to her years in admissions, she worked in the alumni/development department at Southwestern and at her alma mater.
Dean Roberts has served as a member of the LSAC’s Board of Trustees; chair of the 2007-2009 LSAC Diversity Committee; chair of the 2005 LSAC Newcomers Planning Work Group; as a panelist for the LSAC Annual Meeting and Educational Conference in 2005 and 2003 and for the NAPLA Conference in 2003. She is currently chair of LSAC’s PLUS Subcommittee.
AD: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today Dean Roberts.
JR: It’s my pleasure — I’m happy to do it.
AD: How is the 2012-13 admissions cycle shaping up for Loyola?
JR: So far, we expect another downturn for the 2012-2013 season. Attendance at most of the LSAC Forums are down as well as LSAT test taker figures. It’s too early to tell but our focus will be to maintain the quality of the incoming class and this may result in smaller enrollment.
AD: How many applications did you receive for the Class of 2013 last year?
JR: For the Class of 2015, we received about 4400 applications. Despite the downtown, we were very pleased that the quality of the incoming class remained the same.
AD: Loyola has produced many high-profile attorneys, including Johnny Cochran, Mark Geragos, Robert Shapiro, and Gloria Allred. Does Loyola offer a class about how to grab the spotlight and/or track down a mistress of Tiger Woods?
JR: [Laughing] That’s very funny. I was actually joking with one of my colleagues that we should offer a class called “Sharing The Spotlight With Your Clients 101” because so many of our alums are involved in these high-profile cases. That’s really a comment on the reputation these alums have built as truly talented and gifted lawyers in the legal arena. So those clients — whether they are in the entertainment field or involved in a prominent criminal law or civil litigation case — they are looking for an attorney that is going to represent them well which, as you point out, often happens to be a Loyola alum.
Even the busiest and highest profile alums recognize where they got their start and continue to contribute and give back to Loyola. For instance, Mark Geragos speaks on campus frequently and has offered advice to our 1L class. In addition to giving many pearls of wisdom — as well as sharing some funny stories — he impressed upon our incoming students the important role they will play in their clients’ lives and how exciting the law practice can be. He also pointed out — like you — that when someone needs representation in a high-profile case they often turn to a Loyola alum for assistance.
AD: I agree with you. Despite sometimes getting slammed on Saturday Night Live, or spoofed on Seinfeld, all of the folks I mentioned are widely recognized as highly competent litigators. I guess that’s why Loyola has built such a strong reputation for building great litigators. Do you find that to be true or do an equal number of your graduates leave to pursue a transactional practice as a corporate attorney?
JR: I definitely think that Loyola is well regarded in the litigation field in part because of the competency of our alums and also because we have such terrific advocacy programs. If you look at how well our students perform in moot court and trial advocacy competitions, it’s obvious that our students receive great practical training. So it’s natural for many our students — especially those who compete in moot court — to gravitate towards that type of practice after graduation.
However, I think that there is terrific diversity in what our alums do with their law degrees. So, even though we are associated with alums whom everyone knows, there are also people like Pat Hayden who not a lot of people realize is a Loyola Law alum as well. He is the new Athletic Director at USC (and former investment banker) One of his first tasks was to deal with some NCAA violations that occurred before his tenure with the Trojan’s football team. When it came time to clean up that mess, Pat Hayden was brought in to assist with that. I mention Pat because while the majority of our grads may enter private practice in some capacity — as litigators or corporate attorneys — I think it’s also important to point out that many of our alums end up pursing very different career paths.
In addition to Pat, we have graduates who have become CEOs at major television networks or VP’s in the movie and entertainment industry. In fact, our former Dean, David Burcham, is also a Loyola Law alum and is President of Loyola Marymount University — the first non-Jesuit to hold that post. As you can see, a solid law school education affords you a lot of different options.I definitely think that Loyola is well regarded in the litigation field in part because of the competency of our alums and also because we have such terrific advocacy programs. If you look at how well our students perform in moot court and trial advocacy competitions, it’s obvious that our students receive great practical training. So it’s natural for many our students — especially those who compete in moot court — to gravitate towards that type of practice after graduation.
AD: Let’s stick on the jobs topic. The last couple of years have been tough in the legal hiring market. And let’s be realistic — not every one of your graduates can track down one of Tiger Wood’s mistresses as a client (although there seem to be plenty to go around). How have your more recent graduates done in this difficult market?
JR: You’re right, for the past few years the legal job market has been very difficult — this is something that every prospective applicant has to keep in mind when trying to evaluate not only whether law school is right for them, but also which law school they should choose. They need to look carefully at the career services opportunities and their placement. We have always provided very detailed statistics of how our graduates fare and our faculty and deans have been aggressive about positioning our students favorably in the job market. We recently started 12 Academic Concentrations, programs that pair in-depth study in an area of law and practical learning. We want our graduates to have real-world training while they are students and we know these experiences are invaluable to employers.
AD: The big buzz right now is about transparency in reporting employment statistics by law schools. Can you briefly frame the debate for our readers who may not be focusing right now on employment after graduation and describe what Loyola is doing to help its admitted applicants make an informed decision about which school to choose?
JR: Sure. The concern is that the placement statistics for so many law schools are so opaque that they really aren’t giving you a lot of information. So, if you look at a law school and they say their placement rate is 85%, what are those graduates doing? Are they employed in full-time opportunities, are they working part-time, are they doing contract work on temporary assignment? Unfortunately many students may base their decision to attend law school on what turns out to be a superficial understanding of what a school’s employment numbers really mean. Then, if students graduate and are unhappy because they cannot find work, it’s easy to understand why they may feel duped by the “promise” of jobs they thought would be waiting for them. So, there has been a lot of discussion among students, law school administrators, the ABA, and the National Association For Law Placement about how we can make employment data very transparent for prospective students. By and large, the absolutely best thing you can do to position yourself in the legal hiring market is to get good grades — especially during the first year. If you don’t get good grades, then I think that you will find the job market extremely challenging.
For Loyola, our employment statistics are completely available online — and when I say they are available I mean that you do not need a password to access them, you don’t need to be an admitted student to view this information. New requirements in how figures are reported to the ABA have resulted in better reporting and the data we provide is very detailed.
AD: You’re absolutely right a lot of law schools don’t do that. They simply report the most generalized data and provide very wide salary bands.
JR: Right. I’m very proud of the fact that we don’t do that. Our Career Services Dean had extensive experience working in the legal recruiting industry before starting in legal education and understands the importance of people having a realistic sense of what the job market is. That is one of the reasons that we not only report the median and the average of what our graduates end up making, but we also give the high and the low. We also encourage graduates to consider all firm settings – big law is not for everyone – and many students find placement with small or medium-sized firms more than meets their goals.
JR: [Laughing] I and some other administrators around here thought that Stephen Colbert’s coverage was very clever (and funny). We have actually considered inviting Mr. Colbert to deliver the commencement speech at graduation.
AD: That’s great — it shows you can be a good sport about it.
JR: Look, we took it for what it was, which was a very scaled down version of what actually happened with respect to the grading curve. It’s really our students who are most frustrated with all the negative press and how the media reported the situation.
AD: Can you give our readers some insight behind the decision to change your grading policy? And do you think Loyola regrets its decision to inflate grades retroactively and/or how it handled that decision from a public relations standpoint?
JR: Sure. I think the reason why students are so frustrated with the news coverage is because the decision to change our grading policy stemmed from a push by our student body. Our Student Bar Association (SBA) and specialized sub-committees of the SBA worked very closely with our faculty over a period of a couple of years to really examine whether the decision to change the grading curve would be something that would really benefit our students.
Loyola’s mean GPA was probably the strictest among not just California law schools, but also among law schools nationwide. Having such a strict mean was not giving our students a fair shake when employers reviewed their transcripts and compared them to students at other law schools with a less stringent grading curve.
Additionally, the quality of our student body has also changed greatly over the past five or ten years. If you looked at our 75th percentile ten years ago, it was 160 for the LSAT — well, nowadays our median (the 50th percentile) LSAT score is 161. So, you can see that if you were using just that data point as an evaluative criteria, there was a complete shift in the quality of the class overall. The same can be said for our UGPA. When I arrived at Loyola in 2005, our median UGPA was about a 3.2 and for the class that entered in the fall of 2012 the median UPGA was a 3.54. We wanted our grading to keep pace and to accurately represent the quality of the entering class. The other thing was that we wanted to keep pace with what was happening in the market so that our students were not disadvantaged when potential employers looked at our students’ transcripts and compared them against those of students from other schools.
So, the decision to revise our grading policy was very well thought out and heavily debated among our faculty and senior deans. We knew that there was a possibility that the school could take a hit publicly if it decided to raise grades; however, we never guessed it would be picked up by mainstream media outlets like the The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and would generate the amount of attention it received. We put out press releases that explained in great detail why we did what we did. In hindsight, perhaps we could have done a better job responding to the first blog criticisms that came out but when we did tell our story, everyone preferred the abbreviated version — nobody wanted to talk about the process that went into making the decision. Instead, people wanted to hear Stephen Colbert’s five-minute synopsis that, in all honesty, was very entertaining [laughing].
AD: Having gone to a regional law school like Loyola that imposed an artificially low (C) curve, I always wondered why a school would impose that burden on their students. Can you give me an idea about why Loyola adopted such a strict curve in the first place?
JR: I think it had do with the philosophy at many law schools that we impose a strict curve to separate out the top ten percent of the class. This is what was done at other schools and I’m not sure if it was one of those things where professors said, “Hey, I was graded on a strict curve” so my students should be graded the same way.
But getting back to our grading policy change, ours was a relatively modest increase compared to grade changes at other local schools that did not receive nearly the press. In our case, it ended up being a “perfect storm” because although the debate about whether to revise our grading policy began a couple of years ago, the actual change took place at about the same time the economy began suffering and law students all over the country began experiencing great difficulty in finding jobs. In my opinion, this is why people (and the press) chose to read more into our decision about changing grades.
AD: OK, let’s talk about the USNEWS rankings. I’m wondering how you feel about them.
JR: [Laughing] Oh, the USNEWS, they’re my favorite people in the world, of course!
AD: I’m sure you feel that way today, but during the last three years Loyola has experienced some wild fluctuations in its USNEWS rankings — from #63 in the 2008-09 rankings, to #71 in the 2009-10 rankings to #56 in the 2010-11 rankings. How do you explain such dramatic swings, and can you give applicants some assurance that there won’t be another big change (for the worse) this year?
JR: I wish I had a really creative and clever answer! As far as we can tell, there was some confusion on the 2009-10 ballot with regards to Loyola’s name. On that ballot, USNEWS identified us as Loyola Marymount as opposed to Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. Now that sounds like a very small thing, but it actually led to a very real drop in our assessment scores — and you can directly attribute the dramatic fall we experienced in our 2009-10 ranking to our assessment score.
AD: And what is the assessment score, and how does it fit into USNEWS’s methodology?
JR: From my understanding, the confusion regarding Loyola’s name affected the “peer” assessment score we receive from lawyers and judges. Judges and attorneys are sent a ballot from USNEWS and are asked to give law schools a ranking from one to five. And we believe that because we were identified in a different way than in past years, as Loyola Marymount, people filling out the ballots gave us a lower score because they didn’t recognize the school. We have a couple of people who watch USNEWS very carefully and that assessment score doesn’t typically change very drastically in any given year — except that one year. And it obviously makes sense because there wasn’t a mass exodus of our faculty or some crazy shift in our bar passage rates that would dramatically change our assessment score.
Actually, USNEWS agreed with us and for the following year (2010-11) they changed the name back on the ballot to “Loyola Law School” and, lo and behold, our peer assessment score shot back up, drastically improving our ranking.
AD: That’s pretty amazing since you jumped 15 spots in one year!
JR: [Laughing] I know. It’s crazy. So much for carefully studied, scientific data that prospective students can rely on!
AD: [Laughing] Ahhhhh! So do you think what happened to Loyola’s rankings over the past few years points out a patent flaw in the USNEWS methodology?
JR: [Laughing] Does it point to a flaw in the USNEWS ranking methodology that changing a word or two can have such a dramatic impact? Yes, I definitely think so. The name change attributed to Loyola on that ballot had nothing to do with the quality of instruction at the school, the quality of the students we were able to attract to Loyola, bar passage rates, etc. This was simply a typo on the assessment ballot that resulted in a giant drop in our rankings one year and a huge bump the following year once they corrected the name.
This one instance really highlights the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the USNEWS rankings. Obviously applicants are going to rely on them to some extent, but I think they must be very careful and thoughtful in how much weight they give to them since I truly believe they are have a very limited value.
And look, for every USNEWS ranking there is some other ranking system that places us in a whole different category. For instance, The Princeton Review’s law school rankings rank Loyola in the top ten categories for “Best Professors” and “Best Environment for Minority Students”. And those surveys are actually done by students.
Again, having done this over the last decade or more — — students must understand that there can be some value in the various rankings that are available, but they should certainly not use them solely when making a decision about which law schools to apply to and, ultimately, where to enroll.
AD: I agree. Bill Hoye, the Dean of Admissions at Duke Law School, mentioned in his interview that applicants wouldn’t want a law school to make a decision about whether to admit candidates based solely on their LSAT scores. Similarly, applicants should not make their entire decision on whether to attend a law school based on the USNEWS law rankings.
JR: I couldn’t agree more!
AD: Loyola charges an application fee of $65. In these tough times, students are looking for any opportunity to save money — so do you have any suggestions for applicants to Loyola (or other schools) to secure application fee waivers?
JR: I did a quick look through the ABA Official Guide and I think our application fee is fairly average. However, if a student is applying to 8-12 law schools, then those application fees can add up very quickly. Receiving a fee waiver from just a few schools can end up saving an applicant a lot of money.
Loyola’s application fee waiver policy is extremely generous. We have a standard program that allows someone to apply for a fee waiver based on need and we use general poverty guidelines. Additionally, our admissions officers attend over 100 undergraduate/graduate law fairs and forums throughout the fall recruitment cycle and any person who visits our table at one of these events can receive a fee waiver. We give them out at the events very generously because we want to give them to the people who are genuinely interested in applying to our school.
AD: If a person is unable to visit your table at a law school fair, how would they go about getting a fee waiver?
JR: So, there are three ways to get an application fee waiver from Loyola. First, we automatically waive our application fee for anyone who received a fee waiver from LSAC. If you go through the process to demonstrate financial hardship with the LSAC, and they waive the fee to take the LSAT, then we automatically waive our application fee for you as well. That’s one way.
We also have a simple application fee waiver form that’s available through our website. Applicants can fill it out and email or fax it to us with the supporting documentation. That’s another way.
Finally, we have a small pool of merit fee waivers that we will give out based upon people’s interests and their backgrounds.
AD: Is “merit fee waiver” simply code for a high LSAT score or GPA, or both?
JR: I would say both.
AD: How many applicants received a fee waiver in the last cycle?
JR: We have always awarded these generously, some years to more than 1000 applicants and we expect to have similar fee waivers granted for this season.
AD: OK, that’s about 20%. That is pretty generous.
JR: Yes, after having consulted with my colleagues at other law schools I feel pretty confident in saying that we have one of the more generous application fee waiver policies around.
JR: Sure. Any applicant who knows that Loyola is their first choice — they’ve researched us, visited the campus, and absolutely know that this is where they want to attend law school — can apply through early decision. They must have their file complete by December 3 and we will give them a decision by December 31. We can decide to admit them, hold them for further review, or deny them.
Our ED program is binding. This means that if a candidate is admitted, he or she must commit to attend Loyola by paying the deposit in January and withdrawing his or her applications from any other law schools to which they applied. However, if the applicant is “held” or later waitlisted, the binding nature of the early decision program no longer applies to that candidate.
AD: So someone who is “held” simply means that they were an ED candidate and their application was held over for consideration during the regular applicant pool?
JR: Yes, that’s exactly right.
AD: And how many students usually apply to Loyola through its ED program?
JR: We had about 154 applicants for the 2011-2012 cycle, which is consistent with our average and we enrolled 37 of these students. We were really excited about the quality and diversity of the students we accepted through the ED program — not just in terms of numerical indicators, but also in terms of their backgrounds and life experiences.
AD: And how many students did you admit last cycle?
JR: We had about 4400 applications and admitted more than 1600 students. We had just over 330 day students and 43 evening students matriculate.
AD: So about 7% of your matriculating students came through your ED program. Or, to look at it another way, you granted an early decision offer to approximately 18% of the applicants who applied through that program.
JR: Yes, that’s correct.
AD: During the 2009-2010 admissions cycle — the first year of your ED program — there was a lot of controversy on the Top-Law-Schools.com discussion board surrounding a particular ED applicant who was accepted to Loyola. Apparently, this person posted on Top-Law-Schools.com that he was debating whether to withdraw his or her applications at other schools. This person was ultimately “outed” by another Top-Law-Schools.com user who actually called your office to report the original poster. Can you elaborate about what happened in that case?
JR: You’re correct, another user from Top-Law-Schools.com contacted us and made us aware of the discussion board thread. We chose not to pursue it and did not try to hunt down and learn who that applicant/poster might be. During that cycle, we did very well with our ED applicants and did not have a single admitted student withdraw — so apparently that student ultimately decided that Loyola was the right choice for him or her.
I know that other law schools have had incidents with their ED applicants who may have acted dishonestly or unprofessionally by failing to adhere to the binding nature of the early decision agreement. And some of these schools have actually pursued the candidate and reported them to the other schools they were applying to for misconduct. You don’t want to find yourself in that position if you’re applying to law school. [Laughing] Seriously, being dishonest should not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of you! When it comes to applying to a law school through an ED program, I’d recommend that applicants be aware and thoughtful of the binding nature of that decision.
AD: Aside from this instance, has the Internet — law school discussion boards in particular — changed how you approach your job over the past decade?
JR: I don’t think it really has impacted us in the sense that we hear about a post from an alleged applicant and we immediately try to track down that candidate and find out who they are. That’s not really how we operate.
However, the Internet has definitely made us aware that whatever we say or do will be widely dispersed — accurately or inaccurately — on law school discussion boards and blogs. This can be a bit frustrating because we do have a very transparent admissions process. So, if an applicant has any questions about how we read a file, how the admissions process is run, what we look for in an applicant, then they can just ask us. We spend months during the recruitment cycle talking to prospective applicants about exactly that.
I will say, however, that the Internet has made our job difficult in the sense that someone posts their UGPA and LSAT scores on a discussion board and indicates that they have been accepted and other readers of that post automatically assume that the same will hold true in their case. Many people fail to realize that each applicant’s file is different and the fact that you have a similar numerical profile with another applicant who was accepted, rejected, or waitlisted does not automatically mean we will arrive at the same decision after reviewing your file. There are a bunch of factors that come into play when deciding whether to admit or deny an applicant, like the quality of your personal statement or your letters of recommendation. Those things, combined with an individual applicant’s motivation and focus, are often overlooked when admissions decisions get discussed on the Internet. Discussion boards often represent an oversimplified view of law school admissions and while we wish applicants wouldn’t rely on the anonymous postings of other users, we recognize that they often will.
So, if you have a question, don’t be shy to come to the source — the admissions office. For instance, if you get waitlisted, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask us why and whether there is anything you can do to strengthen your file. We are happy to have that conversation with any applicant. That’s what I recommend: receive advice from admissions professionals like me who are actually doing this on a day-to-day basis, versus another (anonymous) applicant who has a very myopic, if not completely incorrect, assessment of what may be going on. When it comes to law school admissions, the wisdom of discussion board posters and bloggers is best taken with a healthy dose of skepticism as biases or the facts upon which conclusions are reached are rarely disclosed.
AD: How should an applicant explain criminal or academic probationary issues in the application? Do you recommend an addendum for this?
JR: I definitely recommend an addendum. In fact, we require it in such circumstances. There is a part of our application that specifically addresses criminal charges or any disciplinary sanctions in their academic history — then we require an addendum. If a candidate has one of these, then they must submit an explanation. We care about the applicant’s explanation about whatever that instance was.
Of course, it makes applicants nervous if they have something in their past that they may not be particularly proud of, but I think the key is for that person to be entirely honest about what happened and to show an appropriate level of remorse and regret. If they do that, then the admissions committee will take that into consideration. Bad things in a person’s past are not immediately prohibitive — it only becomes a problem when the applicant is either dishonest by failing to reveal the incident(s) or where it’s clear that the person is not giving all of the relevant information surrounding that incident. Because the person appears evasive and dishonest it becomes problematic and, again, these are not qualities you want in someone you’re considering for admission to a law school.
AD: And it also presents a problem for them down the road when they go before the character and fitness committee of the bar.
JR: Absolutely. Which is another thing that I think applicants don’t understand. As thorough as we are in our review of an application for admission, the bar examiners are even more thorough. They will even ask about expunged charges or convictions — every single thing that the applicant may have been involved in. So, the earlier a student reports it in the admissions process, the less likely it will cause a problem later on down the road. Even things that might seem minor that a candidate doesn’t report on the law school application, they might get discovered when they apply to become members of the bar. Then the applicant’s non-disclosure becomes the issue and this can really cause problems with him or her getting certified to practice law.
AD: From your description, it sounds like they need to report any “charges” regardless of whether the applicant was actually ever convicted. Is that correct?
JR: We specifically ask for charges where the person has pled, settled, or were found guilty. In those cases, we’d want to know what happened. If the charges were dropped, then at our particular school, we don’t necessarily have to know about the incident. It’s important to note that if the person is applying to several schools, the other schools might have disclosure standards that are very different than ours. Law schools purposely craft their disclosure standards based on their own state’s bar requirements or that school’s requirements. So, it’s in the applicant’s best interest to read that section of the application very carefully and make sure they respond accordingly. Law school applications are by no means uniform — especially when it comes to disclosing these types of things.
AD: Can you give our readers a quick profile of your ideal student?
JR: When I open an applicant’s file, I hope to discover someone who has been really thoughtful about why law school makes sense for them at this point of their life. I don’t think they need to have a specific sense of what they want to do with a law degree, but I like to feel that the candidate has thought about their future and how law school fits into their ultimate goals.
We are obviously also looking for people who are academically qualified. I think that far too often students overlook the fact that law school is a very rigorous academic experience and I like to see applicants who have had success in similar environments so I can have some expectation that if we admit them to Loyola they are going to thrive once they arrive on campus.
Finally, I hope to open a file and find someone who is aware of Loyola’s mission. Loyola provides a high-quality legal education with the expectation that the students we train will be responsible, professional, and ethical advocates. And this is a really important part of our mission and I like to see students who are aware of the responsibility that comes with getting a Loyola law degree. Not necessarily that everyone we admit will pursue a career in public interest — although that certainly would be wonderful, it’s clearly not the expectation (or feasible). We just want our applicants to know what our mission is and understand that they can have an enormous impact with their legal degree not just in the legal profession but also in politics, business, and society as a whole.
AD: Part of the reason why people like to read these interviews is so that they can get an idea about what happens behind-the-scenes after they submit their applications. Can you walk us through the admissions process at Loyola from beginning to end?
JR: Sure. Once a file is complete — and we only read completed files — the file can be routed to any member of our admissions committee, which is comprised primarily of faculty members senior admissions professionals. So a faculty member will often evaluate the file and then route it back to a senior admissions professional — either myself or someone else who works in the admissions office. So I see a great number of files in any given season — too many to count really, but it’s well up into the thousands. So much so that I really don’t read anything else — even a newspaper — during the cycle. In the end, most of our files receive at least two critical evaluations that are holistic in nature.
When reviewing applications, we look at the applicant’s quantitative factors like their LSAT score and UGPA, but we also carefully evaluate the entire academic record — was there an upward trend in college, what was the strength of the candidate’s major, did the applicant work or do other things while they were in school like contributing to his or her household — all of those things can come into play when you are talking about a candidate’s academic record. The undergraduate transcripts really can tell us a lot about a candidate.
AD: How much emphasis do you place on the LSAT?
JR: Of course, we consider it but it’s one factor. If an applicant’s LSAT score is either well above or well below our median it may stand out in the file. The members of our committee are very skilled evaluators and we understand what the LSAT does.
AD: Okay, fair enough. Where does the personal statement fit into the equation?
JR: The personal statement is really the most important qualitative document in an applicant’s file. This is really the one opportunity that an applicant has to make a case for himself or herself. In truth, I’ve read files where that applicant’s personal statement has taken that person’s file to another level entirely — both up and down! It’s one of the few instances where the applicant truly has a lot of control to explain why they think they would make a positive addition to the Loyola Law School community.
AD: Do you ask a general personal statement question?
JR: No, the question is completely open. Candidates can write about whatever they choose.
AD: What are some personal statement “dos” and “don’ts” that you have come across in your last 10 years of reading law school applications.
JR: [Laughing] I have some specific examples in mind, but I really don’t want to call anyone out.
AD: Oh, c’mon! Don’t be shy!
JR: Look, rather than share war stories, I think I feel more comfortable giving your readers some practical advice that might help them avoid some senseless errors as well as some major embarrassment. Do submit a well-written, concise and authentic statement. Do pay attention to the application instructions. Do not include the name of another school in your conclusion that ends with: “and that’s why I want to attend X law school.” [Laughing] That’s one we see quite often when a candidate uses one personal statement for several schools and simply uses a global search and replace for the law school’s name. [Laughing] Sending me a personal statement that says you really want to attend Hofstra is wrong for so many reasons.
AD: [Laughing] Then you should really apply to Hofstra!
JR: [Laughing] Right! And I know the folks over at Hofstra and I feel like I should forward the application over to them with a Post-It note that says: “Add this one to your pile!” I guess all I’m saying is that Microsoft Word is not foolproof and you really want to carefully proofread anything you submit in support of your application.
We use the personal statement to evaluate the applicant on a number of different levels. In addition to seeing how an applicant expresses himself or herself, we also look to a personal statement to see if the applicant possesses good judgment. Our personal statement question is intentionally open-ended because we want to see if the applicant really seizes the opportunity to make their best case for admission.
One final thing I would note is that applicants should not submit personal statements that track the changes of the three or four people who reviewed and commented on their work.
AD: Oh no!
JR: [Laughing] Oh yes — and talk about embarrassing! It’s really an awful oversight and you’d be surprised how many of those versions we receive. If we receive a tracked changes version of a personal statement, it raises all sorts of questions about the applicant: Does this person pay close attention to detail? Could we trust this person to go out into the community and adequately represent a client? All of those questions immediately come to the forefront of the reader’s mind and, trust me, such a simple, senseless error makes a horrible first impression on the admissions committee.
I guess the last mistake I think applicants make is to fail to address why they want to go to law school in their personal statement. Many folks make the personal statement biographical — which it can be — but they fail to link it to their interest in attending law school. That’s pretty important information to omit when you’re seeking admission to our entering class. I guess these applicants assume that the admissions committee knows they are interested in law school because they are applying, but they really need to spell out what is motivating them to pursue a career in law. Far too many applicants need to do a better job in making that connection.
AD: Do you guys ask for a diversity statement?
JR: We don’t ask for one, but an applicant is invited to submit one if they think it would be persuasive.
AD: And what do you look for in a diversity statement and how does it differ from the personal statement?
JR: So, a diversity statement can come from anyone. You’d want to stress how your background and experience is going contribute to the academic community here at Loyola. You want to explain how you are special and how what you bring to the table will enrich the conversation and discourse that takes place in the classroom. Ultimately, it’s all about enriching the classroom experience for our students and faculty and if there’s something in your background that makes you believe you offer a unique or “diverse” perspective, then you’d want to raise that in a diversity statement.
As an example, I was talking to a prospective student who is blogging for the HuffingtonPost, he has had some really substantial life experience because of some specific things in his background. And so this is someone who can write a diversity statement with respect to him being a non-traditional student with extensive work/professional experience and very specific interests in the law that relate to his background.
AD: So a diversity statement does not necessarily pertain to diversity in a traditional sense of “groups who are traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession,” it could be anyone right?
JR: Of course, if you’re a member of a minority group or, say, the LGBT community, you are certainly welcome to submit a diversity statement. But you don’t need to be a member of one of these groups to submit a diversity statement — you just need to describe that “special something” that you will bring with you to the classroom.
Look, take non-traditional students for example. Regardless of their race, color, sexuality, etc. — these folks often bring a lot to the table. They may have owned businesses or real property in the past and when the conversation in Property turns to buying and selling real property, they are in a unique position to contribute to the conversation. Our law faculty really love having these folks in their classrooms to help stimulate and contribute to the classroom discussion. This is why we actively seek them out during the application process. As I said before, our job is to help build the best learning environment we can here at Loyola and a classroom filled with different views and perspectives is one of the ways the admissions office contributes to that process.
Use your diversity statement wisely — do not repeat what’s in your personal statement!
AD: Do you have any advice about collecting letters of recommendation?
JR: If the applicant is still in school — or one or two years out of school — we definitely like to see at least one academic letter. That would be my first piece of advice.
AD: Does it raise a red flag if the person is still in school, or only out of school for a year, and doesn’t include an academic letter?
JR: Sort of. We would definitely question why one was missing. I know that some students decide not to include an academic letter because they think that their transcript speaks for itself. But we still really appreciate that objective evaluation. Remember the bulk of our admissions committee members are faculty members who are really interested in how their peers assess the prospective student. So I don’t think that an applicant should think “I have a 4.0 GPA, so I don’t need to include a letter from my college professors.” I think that person needs to send an academic letter of recommendation just as much as the person who has a 2.7 GPA.
Now, if a student has been away from school for a few years and is not in contact with members of his or her undergraduate community, then that’s fine and they can send professional letters.
My personal pet peeve is that I don’t like to see letters from family friends. Of course, you know that the legal profession is all about networking, so we get a ton of them. I’m just not a big fan of reading a letter that says: “I’m Bob Smith and I know Jannell because she played soccer with my daughter, so therefore she must be a terrific candidate for your law school.” Those types of letters are practically worthless because they often fail to address any of the skills that the applicant possesses which would indicate that they would become a good law student.
AD: I mean, jeez, who would ever send in a letter like that?
JR: [Laughing] Oh, you’d be shocked! We receive those types of letters from family friends, mothers of applicants.
AD: Wait a minute. Stop. You’ve actually received letters from an applicant’s mother? Please tell me you’re kidding.
JR: [Laughing] I wish I could. Yes, every year we receive letters of recommendation from people’s parents and the first line of the letter invariably reads: “Even though I’m so-and-so’s mother, I’m going to give you an objective evaluation.”
AD: [Laughing really hard… and then more laughing.]
JR: [Laughing] And when that happens, I do the exact same thing that you just did, I just laugh. I mean really, did you just write that about your own child?
AD: [More laughing.]
JR: I want to call the person up and ask them what they were thinking! Sometimes, I know it’s not the applicant’s fault because the parent is insisting that the applicant include the letter — but that’s when you use the LSAC service and just don’t send that letter.
AD: [And more laughing.] I’m really shocked. I never even imagined that could possibly happen. And if you’re looking for someone to exercise good judgment when choosing his or her recommender, then I’m sure you’re pretty disappointed when you read that letter.
JR: To say the least!
AD: How about the LSAC’s new Evaluation? There seems to be a lot of confusion about how to use them.
JR: [Laughing] I’m laughing because I know Bill Perez from Nova Southeastern and I read the interview he did with you and his discussion about the LSAC’s evaluation. His response to your question about that was the most bold, to say the least!
Here’s what I think. We know it’s a newer service and that applicants (and admissions professionals) are still figuring out how to use it. So, right now we’re telling applicants that we will accept up to one evaluation. The total number of recommendations that a person can submit is three — two letters of recommendation and one evaluation.
So, just to be clear, evaluations are not required at any level — applicants can choose to use standard letters of recommendation.
AD: How are you using it? Are you simply feeling it out this year?
JR: I’ve served as a volunteer for LSAC committees and I understand the amount of work that they invest in projects like these. But, so far I have found standard letters of recommendation more useful. They’re detailed, specific and more helpful in learning about the applicant.
AD: Let’s talk about transfers. How many transfer students did you gain/lose during the last cycle?
JR: We admit a transfer class based upon the availability in the upper level division. I’d say that, on average, we lose between 8-10 students who transfer out and we probably get about 200 applications to transfer into Loyola. By and large the most important criteria for acceptance as a transfer student is going to be the applicant’s grades.
I looked at the median class rank of the most recent transfer class and it was the top 19%. So, we’re looking for people who have done very well as 1Ls at the home institution and we’re also looking at why they are transferring. There has to be a reasonable explanation about why they want to give up all the things they achieved at their original school, because these are people who may have been offered scholarships, law review membership, and perhaps a research assistantship with a professor — that’s a lot to give up and we want to know what’s motivating them.
AD: What’s the most common excuse? I would imagine that someone is going to have a tougher time explaining a move from Southwestern which is right down the street than if they were transferring in from out-of-state.
JR: One of the most common reasons that people give when they are seeking a geographic transfer is that they need to be back in Los Angeles because of family demands. We see that a lot — the student left California and then realized that they need to return because of personal reasons.
AD: Dean Roberts, I think we’ve covered all the bases! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today. I expect that your responses are going to be very helpful to prospective applicants. Thanks so much.
JR: I hope so. And thank you — I actually had a lot of fun doing this interview with you. The hour flew by!